We came into Death Valley from Las Vegas through the Amargosa Desert/Valley and took the turn off to Dante’s View on Coffin Peak, part of the Black Mountains. The view, as one can see is nothing short of spectacular, descending on the windy mountain road we again came to the main road into the national park.
Our next stop was Zabriskie Point, a viewpoint of some of the most unusual and dramatic rock formations we had ever seen. Contrary to what one might think, Death Valley has a lot of contrast and color, and to see the best of it, late fall, winter or very early spring is the best time to visit. Death Valley holds the record for the hottest spot on earth, is one of the lowest and has not killed near as many people as you might imagine. As a place, Death Valley probably holds the record as being the most rumored about, made up or just plain lied about place on earth. Needless to say, the area has quite a colorful history.
Death Valley was developed as a mining area (20 mule team borax amongst many other commodities), agricultural area (date groves) and is a sacred area to several Native American tribes with specific areas within the park reserved for their exclusive use. First and foremost, Death Valley was known as a transit area that early pioneers usually and may I say, inadvertently, chose to cross to get to California during the gold rush and other large migrations that occurred when California was considered something of a promised land.
The places to visit and things to see have some of the most unusual names: the Devil’s Cornfield, Dante’s View, Ubehebe Crater, Artist’s Palette, Furnace Creek, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Stove Pipe Wells and Scotty’s Castle. The valley is bordered by two magnificent mountain ranges, the Panamint to the west and the Amargosa to the east.
The lowest point in North America is at Badwater Basin at -282 feet in Death Valley and 85 miles to the west-Northwest is Mt. Whitney the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. Yes you have entered an area of the country that is a study of contrasts of the biggest, baddest, hottest, lowest place next to the tallest with the biggest, oldest (some say predates Christ) most magnificent trees and views in the world with Sequoia National Park on the lower western slopes of Mt. Whitney. Therefore, should you have been a pioneer who made one of those decisions to take a short cut across the Valley, you were rewarded once, and if you, emerged on the western side of the valley and the Panamint Range.
The National Park has several lodging facilities and others close by in towns in Nevada (with gambling). Furnace Creek has the Furnace Creek Ranch, a sister establishment to the toney Furnace Creek Resort. You will not go hungry, because beside the general store there are 4 restaurants in Furnace Creek, and that is in addition to the gourmet one down the road at the Resort.
The National Park headquarters is also in Furnace Creek and is a great source of information written and verbal. Another must see place is Scotty’s Castle, which is located at the eastern edge of the park north of furnace Creek.
Scotty’s Castle is a story in itself that is peppered with tall tales, religion, pipe organs, electricity, air conditioning (evaporative), improved health, natural gas, running water, solar water heaters all off the grid when built in the early 1920’s for approximately $1,500,000; a fairly princely sum at that time.
Death Valley, especially in the late fall, winter and early spring is also a mecca for those that wish to ride their motorcycles on and off road. This is a trip you will not want to miss, and best of all you start and finish in the one and only Las Vegas.